Sunday, August 16, 2009

Glassbowing.. IN SPACE!

Years ago, I posted on a bulletin board system hosted by Intelligent Child. It was, for a brief while, a wonderful place. A sun-dappled green glen on the www. And there, among other things, we had a few discussions about blowing glass in space. And the idea, of course, is that every glassblower thinks he can do really amazing things in zero gravity. Like making impossible shapes that defy gravity. Well, they seem to do that here on Earth.

The problem, as we all agreed - there in that cool, clear gathering - was that gravity was a glassblower's bestest buddy. So we would have to reinvent gravity for some parts of what a glassblower does.

But what does he or she do? Well, on Earth, they take a hollow pipe, stick it in a mass of molten glass in the furnace, twirl it like a pool cue, and gather up a gob on the end of their pipe, which is called a gather. Then they can trap air in the pipe and make a bubble. (They hardly ever actually blow). Then they sit at a bench, and manipulate the glass with tools of metal and wood, or roll it on a thick sheet of stainless, called a marver. And when the glass gob gets cold, they stick it in the gloryhole for a reheat.

I can't let that term go by. Gloryhole. Not a good term, especially for something - to a metals  guy like me - that is so cool. A gloryhole, in this context, is a horizontal furnace, open at one end, with a gas jet heating the interior from a burner cut in the side. Usually found as 55 gallon drum with ceramic fiber lined interior.

And then, if they let the bubble cool, they can get another gather out of the furnace. Or a third, fourth, etc. They can spin the pipe, like a flag girl, and lengthen the soft bubble out. They do all sorts of kooky things, but then finally, they have to crack it off. Or jack it off, since they use a tool called a jack.

So just now, I've told you there are two parts that make zero gravity advantageous. The first is the gather. On Earth, if you want to make something big, you have to gather more and more glass. And, if you are a glassblower, and like your back, you hire a Mongo to gather for you. I'm guessing the world record is ten or twelve gathers. The second part is the crack off. If you have a Humunguloidal Awkward on your hands, it's easier to manhandle that beast into an annealing kiln in zero-g.

There is a third part not mentioned. A duty attached to sitting at the bench, with the soft molten bubble on the pipe, is that you have to constantly rotate it, or it will droop and go out of kilter. Some would think this a superb advantage in space. But actually, I suspect it would take far more effort to keep a soft bubble in kilter, in zero-g, as opposed to what our human reactions to falling things can do in our one-g world.

The next subject was what would it take to put a fully stocked and equipped studio up in orbit? What was needed? A furnace, obviously. Gloryholes. Two of them. All electric of course. You'd have a devil of a time with the studio air enough, without gas. You have to have air flow, to keep from killing everyone in suffocating heat - because, in space, heat does not rise, it moves outward. So, basically, you need this billion dollar satellite to make thousand dollar items. Okay, assume that's okay.

Fine. It's an HVAC nightmare. "How about we suit the glassblowers and assistants up, and let them work in raw vacuum?" "What about the blowing part of blowing glass?" "Duh! There's this thing called pressurized air?" "So, how about the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle? Perfect! That's a lot cheaper!"

Actually, no. You need a contained room. You need an atmosphere. You need these things, because the vacuum of space will chill the glass too quickly. You need air, because colors in the glass will dull, due to being in a reducing atmosphere (without oxygen). You need an HVAC nightmare.

Oh, there were more technical details to figure out, which were, but you get the point. Imagination can only take you so far. The point is freedom. And degrees of freedom. People have a funny way of adapting to new environments. They never adapt the way you expect them to. And that, of course, is because you cant' really imagine what the new situation is like. It's the difference between Thinkism and Doism. If you haven't experienced it, you don't really know it, can't imagine it. But I could see some real beauties would have come out of Vetreria Orbita.


I'm thinking about Neanderthals. Those big guys that lived on the ice. Frost Giants. Titans. All those old Norse myths may be about our (Homo Sapiens) dealings with Neanderthals. What's the deal? From what the evidence tells us, they were bigger, stronger...smarter. They had bigger brains than we do. And aren't we, in comparson, the Little People to them? So did we use magical deliciousness against them? Why are they gone if they so smart?

Was it because they were slow? And we were quick? Or did we just eat the ground out from under them, once all the big game was gone? Did we have arrows? I don't think so. So we were evenly matched tool-wise, from what I recall. But the Neanderthals are gone. Or are they? Do we carry Neanderthal genes? Some say yes, then others say maybe, and now I don't know. Third Base!

I think Neaderthal genes are with us. I see a lot of people that look like them. But then, I'm mean. But I do. I think we owe some of our big brains to them. Now all we have to do is use them on a regular basis.